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Billie Burke

Glinda, the Good Witch

Billie Burke's [1884–1970] (Glinda, the Good Witch) career spanned six decades with roles in more than 80 motion pictures. The actress with the lyrical voice was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 1938's "Merrily We Live," but may possibly have had her most memorable role as the woman in the pink bubble who assists Dorothy in finally going home.

Thanks to her representation by famed producer Charles Frohman, Burke went on to play leads on Broadway in Mrs. Dot, Suzanne, The Runaway, The "Mind-the-Paint" Girl, and The Land of Promise from 1910 to 1913, along with a supporting role in the revival of Sir Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Amazons.

There she caught the eye of producer Florenz Ziegfeld, marrying him in 1914. In 1916, they had one daughter, Patricia Ziegfeld. She was quickly signed for the movies, making her film debut in the title role of Peggy (1916). She continued to appear on the stage, and sometimes she starred on the screen. She loved the stage more than movie-business, not only because it was her first love, but also because it allowed her to have speaking parts (impossible in silent movies). But when the family's savings were wiped out in the Crash of 1929, she had no choice but to return to the screen.

In 1932 Billie Burke made her Hollywood comeback, starring as Margaret Fairfield in A Bill of Divorcement, directed by George Cukor, though the film is better known as Katharine Hepburn's film debut (Burke played Hepburn's mother). Despite the death of Florenz Ziegfeld during the film's production, Billie Burke resumed filming shortly after his funeral.

In 1936, MGM filmed a biopic of her deceased husband (The Great Ziegfeld), a film that won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress (Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld's first wife, Anna Held). Burke was herself a character in the film, but she was not cast as herself. Instead, prominent actress Myrna Loy essayed the role of Burke. Coincidently, Ray Bolger who was later cast as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939) also starred as himself in the movie.

In 1933, Burke was cast as Mrs. Millicent Jordan, a scatterbrained high-society woman hosting a dinner party in the comedy Dinner at Eight, directed by George Cukor, co-starring with Lionel Barrymore, Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. The movie was a great success, and revived Burke's career. She subsequently starred in many comedies and musicals, typecast as a ditzy, fluffy and feather-brained upper-class matron, due to her helium-filled voice.

In 1937 she appeared in the first of the Topper series of films, about a man haunted by two socialite ghosts (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett), in which she played the tremulous and daffy Clara Topper. Her performance as Emily Kilbourne in Merrily We Live (1938) resulted in her only Oscar nomination.

In 1938 (at age 53) she was chosen to play Glinda, "the Good Witch of the North", in the Oscar-winning seminal 1939 musical film The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming, with Judy Garland. Another successful series followed with Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951), both directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor.